Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Designing for a Better World

I think I first came across the idea of humanitarian or activism-informed design in TIME magazine’s Coolest Inventions of the Year issue back in 2001 or 2002.  Some of the inventions were just fun, like the trikke bike (which never quite caught on), waterproof cashmere, and some sort of James Bond-esque tooth implant that could receive radio signals.  Others, though, hinted at something kind of new: the idea that a designer’s skills could move beyond the cool and toward the life-changing.  One device I remember was a sign language translator–the signer puts on a glove which is wired to a small computer screen, signs, and the words pop up on the screen.  There was also a cooking device that relied on solar power rather than combustible fuels to generate heat. 

Emily Pilloton (featured recently in this awesome segment on the Colbert Report) has taken the principles of humanitarian design to a whole new level with her organization Project H Design and its equally wonderful book, Design Revolution.  Essentially, the organization brings designers and innovators together to find creative ways to solve some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises.  Their Safe Spaces project, for example, re-designs certain rooms in foster care facilities to make them more calming and therapeutic for children, while the Hippo Roller takes a traditional water jug and re-shapes it so that two hundred pounds of weight can be easily rolled over long distances. 

While money and a willingness to give are huge assets to any humanitarian cause, the creative thinking and artistic skills that these designers bring to the table can’t be undervalued.  And it’s good to know that those of us in creative fields (I’m no designer, but I’d like to think I’m a creative type) can be just as helpful to humanitarian causes as doctors, nurses, and entrepeneurs.  For those of you in L.A. and Austin, check out Project H Design’s road trip, coming soon to a school near you.


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This entry was posted on January 19, 2010 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

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